Back Channel Diplomacy in our Nation’s Capital, Part 1


A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Washington, D.C. on business. I met with law school friends and University of Dayton School of Law (“UDSL”) Alumni working in a wide range of settings, including the Department of Justice, the Office of Management and Budget, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, among other places. Most committed to helping current and future UDSL students who are interested in securing internships or post-graduation jobs in the greater DC-metro area. It was a fun and enormously successful work trip.

I arranged to take with me the two youngest amigos, Daniel and Luke, so we could visit a few noteworthy sites together after my other daily obligations had concluded. I met with attorneys, employers, and alumni during the morning hours while the boys slept in, then returned to our hotel, changed clothes, and scampered around the city during the afternoon and evening hours with a couple of excited, even semi-star-struck teenagers.

We received a tour of the Capitol building which included visits to the rotunda and the original Supreme Court chamber. We visited the National Holocaust Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Air and Space Museum, the latter two part of the Smithsonian system. We ate in Chinatown and stopped by Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated. We saw the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. We even toured the East wing of the White House and walked around Lafayette Square (as usual, there were a handful of protestors on site raising their voices against a panoply of domestic and foreign-affairs-related real/perceived sins; thank God, however, no one set themselves aflame while we were walking around).

Prior to our last full day — a Saturday — I asked the boys what their “favorite thing” had been up to that point. Luke rattled off a laundry list of “favorites” but finally settled on the Washington Monument and the pizza we found in Chinatown. Not surprising. Daniel thought for a moment, then provided a reply that shocked me: “Umm…that…you know…picture of Kennedy in the White House.” He was referring to Aaron Shikler’s famous (in some quarters, infamous) painting of a pensive, thoughtful JFK, arms folded and head bowed. I was pleasantly stunned.

On our final afternoon, we decided to venture west, across the Potomac, to pay our respects, soak in some important history, and “experience” Arlington Cemetery. I learned from the concierge at our hotel that we could reach Arlington rather easily via DC’s metro train and that there was a station one block away. Perfect! The boys would consider a subway ride an added bonus.

So we showered, ate lunch, and walked to the Metro Center stop to purchase our passes. One of the employees spied me struggling to read the small computer screen explaining the purchase options and walked over to assist the three bumpkins from rural Ohio.

“Sir,” he began amiably, “how can I help you? Where do you want to go?”

“Oh, thanks,” I replied. “We want to take the blue line to Arlington Cemetery, but we may want to go a few other places today as well, so I was thinking a day pass for each of us would make sense.”

“Alright, then. Let me just walk you through it. Put your credit card in here. Yes! Like that. Now—you say you’re going to Arlington today? [I nodded.] Okay, let’s get you three day passes.”

After some whirring sounds, my credit card returned and three metro passes emerged from a slot in the machine.

“Now, sir, to get to Arlington just go down to the sub-level platform and wait for the blue line train headed to Franconia-Springfield. That’s important. If you take the other blue line train you’ll be going in the wrong direction. Got it?”

“Got it,” I nodded again.

“Arlington Cemetery is about the fourth stop. Just listen. Can’t go wrong. Have a great day!”

The boys and I thanked our helpful interloper and found the platform. We waited for 20 minutes and nervously discovered that all of the announced arrivals were for orange or silver line trains—none for the blue line. About then a patron walked over to us, offering to assist.

“Yeah, well, thanks,” I began. “We’re just trying to get to Arlington Cemetery today, but there haven’t been any blue line trains coming through yet.”

“Oh, my,” he replied tentatively. “I’m really sorry to tell you this…but…the blue line is down for maintenance all weekend. Didn’t anyone tell you?!”

Steam poured forth from my ears. I wanted my money back and a pound of flesh, too.

“C’mon, boys,” I barked. “We’ll see about this….”

NEXT INSTALLMENT: “Back Channel Diplomacy in our Nation’s Capital, Part 2”

By Timothy Swensen

Virtue and Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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